File image: An Israeli child receives a polio vaccine as part the government's immunisation campaign against the disease in the southern city of Beersheba Augus. Reuters

The recent spike in measles cases in Gauteng and the Western Cape is as a direct result of parents refusing to vaccinate against the illness, which is of growing concern since the reckless habit of not vaccinating in general could fuel a rise in antibiotic-resistant superbugs, warn experts.

Annemarie Blackmore, Pharma Dynamics’ Antimicrobials Portfolio Manager says vaccinating your child is paramount in the ongoing fight against antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

“Antibiotic resistance is when an antibiotic has lost its ability to effectively control or kill bacterial growth and is exacerbated by the unnecessary and incorrect use of antibiotics. Vaccines have the potential to decrease disease, which can in turn reduce the need for antibiotic use,” remarks Blackmore.

Many parents remain particularly sceptical of the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine, following a UK study that linked the vaccine to autism. It also sparked a wide debate on social media and raised a question around the safety of vaccines in general.

Blackmore says the study has since been proven fraudulent by an investigation published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), but the damaging effects remain, and as a result, many parents are in two minds about whether to vaccinate their children.

“Contrary to these mistaken beliefs, vaccines are and will continue to play a pivotal role, and even more so in the next two to three decades, in combatting illnesses and anti-microbial resistance alike.”

South Africa is still some way off in meeting its immunisation targets, which given the alarming rise in not only diseases such as measles, but superbugs in recent years, it has now become a top priority.

The total immunisation coverage in the country over the 2013/2014 period stood at 84.4% according to the district health barometer by the Health Systems Trust – an NPO with a focus on improving health systems in the country. The figure points to a drop in almost ten percentage points from the 94% coverage, which was recorded the year prior, indicating a significant decline in the overall administration of vaccines.

According to Blackmore there is a 30-year void in the discovery of new types of antibiotics, with no registered classes of antibiotics having been discovered since 1984, which reaffirms the importance of using what precious antibiotics we do have, responsibly.

“Already AMR is estimated to kill more than 700 000 people globally per year. If not addressed, 10 million people are expected to die annually because of drug-resistance by 2050.

“Everyone can and should play their part by vaccinating themselves and their loved ones against the diseases outlined in the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) expanded immunisation programme.

Measles is one of the most infectious diseases in the world and could cause brain damage, pneumonia and/or blindness. Look out for a high fever and flu-like symptoms. Two to three days in, tiny white spots may appear inside the mouth, followed by a rash, which usually starts out as tiny flat red spots on the face, neck, trunk and extremities. If you suspect your child has the measles, visit a GP or nearest clinic to you immediately.